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THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Ayreon

Progressive Metal


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4 stars Well another bombastic opera rock by Arjen L.

This guy is a genius.

How can he combine complexity of themes ,complex ideas with the right song for everyone.

So inspired compositions .,so inspired arrangements ..well it took 5,5 years to have this work of art .

The right singers,the right musicians ,the right album.

Excellent cd .....its level in the middle of Human Eq and 00.....(2008).

'Is this prog metal.?..i think the genre is more complex....'hard eclectic prog rock ? 'crossover hard prog?

Yes we have folk prog songs,symphonic prog,neo prog,metal prog... all very good themes in different styles...

So as expected another delightful album by Ayreon

4,5 stars in my oppinion

Report this review (#1060782)
Posted Wednesday, October 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Arjen Lucassen has achieved something special with this one...

With the incredibly large buildup to this album, one would normally expect it to crumble under its own weight and hype. Fortunately, "The Theory Of Everything" is one of those rare cases where the end result actually lives up to the incredibly high expectations of the public.

The idea behind this album seems to have gone something like this: Arjen Lucassen, ready for yet another new project, asks himself: "Why don't I take everything that everyone enjoyed about my 3 most successful albums, and combine them all into a masterpiece of epic proportions."

...and that's what he did. Simply put, this album is as if Arjen decided to take the colourful, proggy aspect of "Into The Electric Castle," the complex emotions and incredible vocal cast (both as singers and as characters) from "The Human Equation" and the mystifying sense of tension and atmosphere from "01011001" and put them all in that great big hippie melting pot of his.

The story of this album is the easiest of any Ayreon album to follow, yet also the most dramatic. The characters are complex and far from one-dimensional, each complete with their own conflicts and motivations. You tend to feel deeply for these characters, who have been beautifully represented by their vocalist counterparts. This brings me to what truly shines about "The Theory Of Everything" - the outstanding lineup. Put simply, Ayreon finally has its own sound. The guitar/violin combination is powerful, backed up by subtle flute undertones and (what I consider to be) some of the best synth work to grace a prog metal/rock album in quite some time. Whether this is Arjen himself or the synth-master Rick Wakeman himself (who is confirmed for having a larger part in this album that just a simple solo) doing this is still uncertain, but either way, kudos are necessary.

The vocal talent is also some of Ayreon's best. Tommy Karevik pulls off a brilliant job contrasting the "dreamlike" and "awakened" states of the protagonist, both Cristina Scabbia and Sara Squadriani truly show their passion in the relationships with their "significant other" in their roles of "The Girl" and "The Mother", and Marco Hietala brings forth the true intricacy and irony of his character, "The Rival." Also playing their parts to the fullest are JB, who commands authority with kindness as "The Teacher" and John Wetton (well known around these parts for his place in Asia) brings a certain amount of thought and intricacy to the surface in his role as "The Psychiatrist."

However, there is one truly standout performance on this album which I feel deserves some very special mention, and this comes from what many would have considered to be "the underdog" of an album made up of rock/metal superstars.

That is the performance of Michael Mills in his role as "The Father."

Very few of the listeners to this album will have ever previously heard this name, being the frontman to an incredibly underrated and unknown band "Toehider." However, by the end of this album, I was astounded at just how much emotion this one man could have put into this performance. Mills knew this was his big chance to get into the open, and boy did he take it! Not only would I call his performance one of the best that Ayreon has ever had, I would actually be tempted to call this one of the best vocal performances I've heard, period.

Anyone remember the way people's minds were blown when Geoff Tate reached that high note on the well-famed "Queen Of The Reich"? Well, Mr. Mills decides to hit that note a few times throughout the album, and then surpass it. I didn't truly notice though, until his performance on the song "The Parting," which quickly became the highlight of this album for me. On said song, he hits one of the highest notes I've heard from a male vocalist, sustains it, then cleanly completes it in a way that I'm sure will get most vocal enthusiasts' jaws hitting the floor. Needless to say, I've found one of my new favourite singers of all time.

Also, I guess it's worth mentioning that on the track "Progressive Waves" their is a keyboard solo trade-off between Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess, which brilliantly complements the title by showing off the two unique forms in which the keyboard has developed itself in the prog world - the experimentation of the classic prog period and the virtuosity of the modern prog period.

Overall, this album is definitely one of the (or perhaps even THE) best albums to come from Arjen. Everything, both musically and lyrically is excellently written and performed, and there is almost no filler to the album at all, unlike a lot of Arjen's other works that sometimes tended to end up being too long for their own good. You end up getting addicted to the story, and you grow to love all of the characters, even the ones that primarily act as foils.

Overall, this album is one I would recommend for any prog fan - it has touches of everything: symphonic, folk, classic prog rock, prog metal, and some brilliant synth work throughout.

I'd give this album a personal rating of 4.7 stars. While it isn't absolutely pitch perfect musically, it's definitely up to the Ayreon standard (which, if you ask me, if pretty high) and the vocal performances more than make up for that anyway. Could easily end up being the best of the Ayreon discography, and the definitive Ayreon experience. However, whether or not that will happen, only time can tell.

Report this review (#1061655)
Posted Friday, October 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Arjen Anthony Lucassen is surely one of the most able composers and multi-instrumentalists out there. He managed to create at least a couple of very good albums and one masterpiece (The Human Equation), so everyone was very excited about this one. The Theory of Everything is conceptually speaking a little bit distant from the predecessors, since science fiction is not central anymore and it's more about psychology. In many aspects, it reminds me of The Human Equation itself, in some cases even some musical choices recall to that masterpiece.

The album is structured in 4 suites, 20+ minutes each: Singularity, Symmetry, Entanglement and Unification. Every suite is articulated in an average number of 10 movements, that's the reason why the album features 42 tracks in total. Let's talk a little bit about each suite:

Phase I: Singularity is about the beginning of the story of The Prodigy (aka Tommy Karevik): he's a genius boy who starts to work on the theory of everything thanks to his incredible ability in mathematics. Almost every other important character is introduced here, such as The Father (Michael Mills), The Mother (Cristina Scabbia), The Girl (Sara Squadrani), The Rival (Marco Hietala) and The Teacher (JB). As we can see, there is not the same quantity of singers hired for this album as there was in the previous works, but they are all great! This suite is mainly heavy but there are also some atmospheric moments and of course a lot of proggy keyboards, rhythms and whatever you'd like to hear in an Ayreon album. Progressive Waves is one of the most incredible piece of music I have recently listened to, with an incredible keyboard presence and an outstanding drum part. What a pity that Emerson's keyboard solo here is quite a shame, while Rudess handles it better than in Dream Theater. The negative aspect of dividing in tracks these suites is that it is evident the "sense of collage". While in a suite there usually are 3-4 minutes long movements, in these suites the tracks last even less than one single minute, and so the atmosphere and everything just changes almost too frequently. The good thing about this is that The Theory of Everything ends being probably the most eclectic album by Ayreon, I think thanks to these constant change in the suites, too. Generally speaking the album is a little bit too heavy to satisfy me completely and sometimes there is something that just does not work especially in the vocal arrangements and that sense of epic that I don't completely like. But that's nothing really negative here.

Phase II: Symmetry sounds quite similar to the previous suite, but it features one more great character such as The Psychiatrist (John Wetton). The keyboard solo by Rick Wakeman is something really special and he just nails his fellow keyboardists featured in the other piece of music. Electronic influences are more evident here. The only not really fine thing here is The Argument 1 which i think is quite useless and too short; it was probably included in the album just to reach the quote of 42 tracks (which recalls the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The first part of Potential contains a very nice acoustic vibe while Quanum Chaos begins with the most electronic-like arpeggiator-thing ever done by Ayreon.

Phase III: Entanglement is honestly my favorite suite of the album. It contains movements such as Fluctuation, Side Effects, Frequency Modulation and String Theory which I totally love and go from the powerful synth atmospheres to orchestral soundrack-like music, etc. Collision blew my mind away with its arpeggiator synthy things and of course an epic drum performance. Wetton, Mills and Karevik deliver an outstanding vocal performance in Side Effects while almost every moment dedicated to the two Italian female vocalists is spectacular. And I have no words to describe the magnificence of Frequency Modulation intro keyboard sounds. After the pirat-esque ethnic dynamics of Magnetism and the epic string atmospheres of String Theory it seems like everything possible has been done here. Arjen is just a genius here, with sounds out of human understanding and great melodies. Great concept developments, too. This suite is simply one of the best things ever happened to mankind.

Phase IV: Unification is this album's grand finale, with some other highlights as The Parting featuring a mind-blowing vocal performance by Mills and an unforgettable guitar solo by Steve Hackett. The opener movement, Mirror of Dreams is an acoustic song featuring very touching female vocals, while The Visitation contains some phenomenal electronic keyboard moments. With that track begins a conceptual and musical climax which explodes in the wonderful guitar solo by Lucassen himself in The Uncertainty Principle, also containing very nice organ arrangements. The third part of the titletrack basically completes the concept, while everything finishes like it started with The Blackboard (Reprise). One final surprise leaves some space for a possible sequel for this great concept album...

... and we really hope this will eventually happen!

Vote: 9+ (Top 20 albums = 5 Stars)

Report this review (#1062688)
Posted Saturday, October 19, 2013 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The seemingly almighty Arjen Anthony Lucassen has finally released another album from his project, Ayreon. It's been five years or so, and the anticipation seems to have been killing most of the progressive metal crowd. And, why wouldn't it? "The Theory of Everything" is ridiculously star-studded with appearances by Rick Wakeman (YES) and Keith Emerson (ELP), Steve Hackett (Genesis) and John Wetton (Uriah Heep). That is one proggy line-up, but the vocalists are definitely more metal oriented. Ayreon's new album features Marko Hietala (Nightwish), Tommy Karevik (Seveth Wonder/Kamelot), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), and JB (Grand Magnus), Michael Mills (Toehider), and Sarah Squadrani (Ancient Bards). That is one killer list of singers, and they really do bring the emotion and expertise. Still, on top of all that, Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) presents an excellent keyboard solo, and Troy Donockley (Nightwish) plays amazing Uillean pipes and flutes. With all of these brilliant musicians on board, "The Theory of Everything" couldn't possibly be a failure.

However, I like to step back and look at things more objectively, especially when you get the feeling that there are just too many excellent musicians colliding here. Lucassen had said that, after the previous Ayreon album, he wanted to reinvent this project. He wanted to change it and create a whole new world. Well, he did just that. This album is still a rock opera, but it is simple. Too simple. When I hear a rock opera, I expect a great story, rife with memorable dialogue and tense drama. "The Theory of Everything" has none of that. I feel that, for the most part, the lyrics are uninspired and even pedestrian at times. They get the story across---barely. This is especially embarrassing as the story is so simple that it could have been written in one sitting. For an album with this title, you would think that we would be exploring some profound universal truths, or at least some philosophical ideas of some sort. Nope. All we get is a story with a plot twist at the end that is so poorly written (incorrect grammar) that the moment was lost on me for a few seconds. Does this mean this album is a disappointment? Not at all.

"The Theory of Everything" shines musically, pure and simple. The passable story is raised up by the incredible musical depth. This album is proggy, but metal. It is folksy, but heavy. Donockley's pipes and flutes really save this album, as they add a personality that would have been sorely missed. That, and the addition of violin and cello, makes for an ethnic metal sound that is hard to beat. Don't get me wrong, though, the input from the other musicians is impressive, too. The keys are sublime, and the riffing metal guitars that appear at points make you stop whatever you are doing and join the groove. I think perfect examples of this are the three parts of "The Theory of Everything", "Quantum Chaos", and "Frequency Modulation". Incredible musicianship and composition are found in these, and nearly every other track. I must also mention "Progressive Waves", as this track contains stunning keyboard work. I think it might be my favorite track.

The vocalists on this album also elevate the lyrical material. Most of the vocals are excellent, but two of the singers stand out for me. First, Tommy Karevik's awesome voice is present, but sadly far too little. I felt cheated at his few lines. There is still a fair amount of his voice, but far less than I was expecting. He is brilliant, and could technically be the best singer in prog today (though far from my favorite). Next, I think the most impressive vocal performance on this album is from Cristina Scabbia. Her heartfelt, emotive vocals are a real treat and completely steal the show.

So, this album feels like a triumph in the end. Not because of the simplistic, seemingly pointless story that is named after the holy grail of all theories (one that would unity all physical laws), but because of the execution of it. Ayreon's new album is nothing short of breath-taking at points, and for those that don't care about story, I could see it topping lists. For those of us that were hoping for something more, it is a slightly flawed, but consistently tremendous musical work.

Report this review (#1065247)
Posted Wednesday, October 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
1 stars This is the most useless piece of garbage ever produced in the name of prog.

No, really. No new material. The same old Ayreon songs over and over again for another one and half hours. If you listened to any other album by Ayreon, consider yourself listened to this one as well. Even Manowar has likely progressed more musically since they were founded back in 80's.

This is an utter waste of anyone's time. You could've spent your 90 mins watching sports games already aired and would've not wasted your time as much.

This release has an amazing (I mean jaw-dropping, bone breaking, unimaginably fantastic) line-up, and they're not more recognizible than a bunch of black holes in the dark. You can't tell apart any of the collaborating musicians from any others those who collaborated in Ayreon in the past.

The album hosts no catchy tunes or groovy rhythms, with an abstinence of good vocal lines. Actually, those vocal lines made me sick. So sick that I almost got cancer trying to endure this album to its full length.

The sub-parts of each individual song (or phase, in album's terms) has no obvious musical connection among themselves for the most part and rather sound unnecessarily irrelevant; looking like connected randomly to form a song for 20+ mins' sake.

Eventually, the album sucks big time and I wish I never listened to it. I love Ayreon's Human Equation (a 5/5 without a second thought) and enjoy Electric Castle releases to an extent (3.5/5). However, The Theory Of Everything is totally and incurably lame.

0.5/5 stars for the attempt.

Report this review (#1068641)
Posted Tuesday, October 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
5 stars Ayreon's "The Theory of Everything" is the eighth studio album Dutch songwriter, producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen. This concept album features as always a cast of many prog legends portraying enigmatic characters that tell a captivating story. This Ayreon project begins a new saga that disregards the science fiction theme of previous albums to embrace a new concept based on a realistic world. According to Lucassen "The Theory of Everything" is "four long tracks divided into various segments", culminating in just under an hour and a half or prog opera theatrics. The segments add up to 42 in total, with Lucassen paying obvious tribute to Douglas Adams' 'Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything' in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" saga.

There are many guest artists to revel in on this album; the vocalists include JB from Grand Magus as The Teacher, Sara Squadrani from Ancient Bards as The Girl, Michael Mills from Toehider as The Father, Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil as The Mother, Tommy Karevik from Kamelot, and Seventh Wonder as The Prodigy, Marco Hietala from Nightwish, and Tarot as The Rival, John Wetton from Asia, UK, King Crimson, Family, and Roxy Music as The Psychiatrist, and Wilmer Waarbroek on backing vocals. The musicians are incredible on this project consisting of the incomparable keyboardists Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson in a powerhouse performance with Jordan Rudess. Genesis guitarist extraordinaire guitarist Steve Hackett makes an appearance. Also on show are Arjen Anthony Lucassen on electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, mandolin, analog synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings. He is joined by talented masters Ed Warby on percussion, Troy Donockley from Nightwish on uilleann pipes, whistles, Ben Mathot on violin, Maaike Peterse on cello, Jeroen Goossens on flutes, piccolo, bamboo flute, contrabass flute, Siddharta Barnhoorn on orchestrations and Michael Mills on Irish bouzouki.

Now for the actual contents. It opens with 'Singularity' beginning with soft, minimalist flute and acoustics. A pulsating bassline pumps ominously and then the voices begin. The gorgeous vocals of Cristina Scabbia resonates like an angel; as the Mother she infuses her performance with passion and fire. The Prodigy is the main protagonist, an amazing vocal from Karavik, and Michael Mills is superb as The Father. After a huge conversation about the genius becoming manipulated into a world changing, mind altering mathematical experiment of scientific significance, the music builds into a tense metal riff and soaring synths. At 8:35 there is a violin concerto waltz and this builds to a fantastic guitar solo with delay reverb. There is an atmospheric grinding organ sound and some mechanised effects. The Father sings "down here on my knees, feeling the weight of shame, how could I have done this to you my son, why should I forgive you after all you've done." The Prodigy answers "I was driven and blind, we can still work together if you allow me". The Father retorts "why should I give you a chance why should I trust you now?" The Prodigy replies "if we join our minds then together we can do this, we both want to be the first, we both want to change the world, we can work all night, we can solve this mystery be a part of history".

The chemistry is signified by chemical synth effects. The experiment begins with scientific gobbledygook spouting out like some bad chemistry effect "isolate the gravity, symmetry". 'Progressive Waves' has to be given special mention as it is a huge keyboard solo between Emerson and Rudess; a simply gobsmacking moment of the album. Emerson is brilliant of course and I love to hear his unmistakeable trademark staccato Hammond sound. Rudess on the Continuum is a master in his own right and gets some amazing sounds out of that weird contraption of his. There is a mood change then as the Teacher sings emotionally, "dear friend, my work as done, science had to survive, thank you for your faith." A nice little segment of keyboard The Psychiatrist sings "His mind took flight and his eyes have lost their light, all we have to go on is a note, he changed the world last night working together side by side, his father is the only one who knows". The Mother sings passionately and then an emotive lead guitar break signifies the gravity of the situation as the experiment has gone wrong, entering the eleventh dimension. Some sad violin strains echo the dramatis and then very strong guitar and keyboard melodies join the soundscape. The Girl and The Mother have a duet as they wail over the plight of the Prodigy. A heartbeat bass draws the track to a close and the words "will we ever understand how two different hands styles came to grace this blackboard."

The second epic is 'Symmetry' opening with grand guitar and ethereal pipes until a throbbing synth locks in and some wonderful phased lead guitar motifs. This one has the foreign sound of 'Loser' from "The Human Equation". The deep resonating lyrics tell the tale, "I don't mean to interfere but I see quite a change in you". The tale unfolds where the Teacher implores "We can play a part changing history, our time is near" This is followed by the observations of The Psychiatrist "I have to say it's unusual, such a transformation overnight, I wouldn't have thought it was possible, I don't want to scare you but it can't be right" and the Son replies "A world of endless wonder lies ahead." The synth solo to follow is wonderful sounding very retro and 80s, then an ascending riff of distorted power crunches along till it moves to a fast tempo chugging metal riff. I love this section at 5:10 and the Hammond underneath is nicely placed. A lead guitar solo and Rick Wakeman's keyboard workout follows with grinding organ a constant presence. The aggressive vocals that trade off are so well executed "if you are such a genius it didn't get you very far".

Then the track segues to a droning buzz synth and a slow measured cadence at 7:50. This has a cool spacey sound and then moves into a melodic synth phrase and deep piano tones. The story continues with the regret of the characters shining through "I'm afraid we've got a problem, the side effects have been confirmed, psychosis and delusions, we have to stop the trial today, It's too dangerous, the boy deserves to know what's going on, what have we done?" This section reminds me of another Ayreon project in melody. The lead guitar break is brilliant, followed by more storyline from the Father, an incredible performance by Michael Mills, "I've been giving you a drug, I was convinced that it would help you, can you forgive me what I've done?" There is a nice synth section here that is captivating. Later, the metal riffs thrash along and kick the song up another gear. The Uilleann pipes enter and have a beautiful sound as the Prodigy and The Girl converse about him being able to stay with her. The Mother tries to warn her son with the Father and trade off a segment of arguing about the Prodigy; "He will deceive you, you're being used, don't let him play you, all he wants to do, he wants to be with you". I like the Irish sounding pipes throughout lending a very Celtic vibe and the song transcends into tranquil ambience. At about 17 minutes the music changes gears and the Teacher offers to make a deal, "I am a brilliant chemist, I can replicate your drug but my offer has a price you have to help me," sings Wetton. The Prodigy says count me in, "what do you need from me?" The Teacher explains what he wants. The Hammond grows in intensity as the Mother sings of her pain, pleading for her son to be cautious. An orchestrated passage signifies that the tale is getting darker, and there is a heavy rock guitar-driven section to follow, and the Girl sings "I won't be part of this nightmare, you're out on your own." The Prodigy is left to ponder "what have I done? Now she's gone."

The third multi-movement suite is 'Entanglement', opening with spacey synths, and a deep baritone voice; "do you struggle to adapt, do you feel detached?" The Prodigy answers he feels "like some alien machine, knowing what to feel or what is real". The Girl answers with her beautiful heartfelt tones and the conversation continues with the Psychiatrist; "let's talk about your dreams, can you describe what you feel, do you feel anything at all?" The Prodigy says "I see things that don't belong, there is so much more beyond." A lot of storyline is conveyed by the next sequence; the Mother screams, "I won't let you endanger my child". A cool retro synth workout takes over as a heavy riff cranks along. Michael Mills reaches some incredible high register octaves and then a gorgeous flute solo drifts in. The song becomes very melancholy as the Father whispers hoarsely, "ever since I was a child it all came so easy I never had to try." The violin adds a tone of sadness as the Prodigy pleads to continue with the experiment despite the warnings from his loved ones. The time signature changes to a funky bass and some techno keys that cascade up and down the scale. The lead guitar break is excellent at about 10 minutes and then a heavy rock beat with fast drums and a galloping metal guitar blasts through. Mills screams out as high as he can and then a violin solos over a synth pulse; one of the ambient moments on the album. The poignant lyrics are searching for answers; "Where am I going? How did this happen? My life is unfolding, depressingly average."

I like the time sig and choppy fractured riff as the gorgeous voice of Sara Squadrani chimes in. Some oddly placed violins over a very heavy riff enter and then another techno synth mix like a sequencer is heard, followed by distorted chopped riff and a grand crystal clear synth melody. At 15:30 there is an acoustic sound and this is broken by ultra heavy guitar riffing, an excellent sound, and soon staccato keyboards join. The story continues with "I know why you're here, you're a fellow man of science, our point of view is very much alive." The Prodigy asks to keep it between themselves, as "no one needs to know". The plot thickens and so does the music with layers of guitars and a pulsating synth locks in at 18 minutes. Some wonderful vocals sing "I am so close to the answer but I need your brilliant mind". The track builds to a crescendo as we near the end with grandiose keys, powerful melodies and shimmering Hammond then a final guitar motif. This is a fantastic song full of vibrant energy and incredible vocal performances with accomplished guitar and synth workouts.

The 4th phase opens with waves crashing on a beach and then the deep vocal sings "will we ever get this close again uniting the forces of our universe?" He is answered by Cristina's crystalline tones "it's been too long, I think he's gone." At this point the Hammond enters with a powerful fanfare, and then some delightful electric organ and a grand piano segment. The tale continues as the Prodigy is being immersed in the grand experiment; "Unification of the great and small". The Prodigy says "I just need some more time as the answer is blindingly near." The Girl is worried for his safety and pleads for him to stop. The Son is now confused and is losing touch with reality. An Egyptian sounding melody enters, with some wonderful flourishes on keyboard and Steve Hackett's guitar. Acoustics chime in and the Father's lyrics "is this your work, be honest now, how did you do it, I'm not angry boy, but I really need to know." The Prodigy is sorry but his Rival says he has always been the genius and "he just wants to be like me." This storyline reminds me of the rivalry between those who steal ideas and claim it for themselves seen in many movies.

I like the next section and how the Girl sings "what have you got against him, what did he ever do to you?" The Rival retorts with "I can't believe you're falling for this loser". He says that they should be together and is obviously jealous. At 18 minutes the song culminates in a fiery argument between the main protagonists. The music has reached a crescendo and is nearing the end. A dreamy flute solo and violin serrations are joined by piccolo; some of the most sublime music you are likely to hear. At the end of this I am left just shaking my head in absolute awe at the majesty and beauty of such music; it captures the soul and lifts the spirits.

Overall, this new Ayreon project is a stunning achievement with some unbelievably transcendent musicianship. The vocals are flawless throughout especially Mills, Scabbia and Wetton. It is hard to pick a favourite song as they complete the whole and are inseparable, though CD 2 absolutely shines through as some of the best Ayreon I have heard. To listen to this album in one sitting is one of the more pleasurable musical experiences over recent years. I have loved so much of Ayreon's work over Arjen's long career, and string of masterpieces, and this album is no exception; a masterful musical triumph without a doubt. It grows on my ears on subsequent listens, and especially noticeable are the flute, Uilleann pipes and the keyboard flourishes. The melodies are infectious and begin to grow familiar over a few listens. The storyline is perfect for this project and not as complex as other Ayreon tales. I thoroughly recommend this for all prog addicts; not too heavy, not too light, but perfectly balanced virtuoso musicianship and outstanding vocal performances.

Report this review (#1068928)
Posted Wednesday, October 30, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the most anticipated releases of the year is finally here, and despite the enormous pressure of living up to its expectations, considering the legendary status of many of the guest artists, it didn't dissapoint me at all. As a matter of fact, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has produced a masterpiece which, in my humble opinion, ranks up there with his most acclaimed opus: The Human Equation. Taking on a more down-to-earth theme (apparently) than some of his previous releases, Arjen tells us a story about a brilliant but obsessed scientist who sees an excellent opportunity to complete his research taking advantage of his son's exceptional talent. Although we have seen themes like these in several movies, this story has a charm of its own and could easily be taken to the big screen. I won't dwelve much into it for those who have yet to discover this wonderful album. What I can say is that every guest vocalist and instrumentalist delivers a great performance and the music adapts perfectly to the many shifting moods developed along the plot. You can tell the parts in which every musician performs with their particular way, for almost all of them have a very distinctive style of their own. As for the singers, Toehider's Mike Mills and Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia were the most pleasant surprises, though every singer gives a great performance. I'd strongly recommend not making a definite opinion about The Theory Of Everything until after having listened to it for at least 3 times, for a work as ambitious as this can hardly be assimilated on the first hearing. Once you do you won't be dissapointed, for Ayreon's latest offering takes us once again on a great musical and conceptual journey! Five stars.
Report this review (#1069610)
Posted Thursday, October 31, 2013 | Review Permalink
The T
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I haven't written a review for this website in over 2 years. I wouldn't like to start one after so long for an album that's such a disappointment. But it is sadly the case.

In less than a 2-month period, 3 of the most important progressive rock/metal bands on the planet (and, specifically, on my rock orbit), have released new albums of fully "new" material (more on that qualifier later). Normally, and especially since a couple of years ago, my rather diminished interest in rock in general would have experienced a much needed boost from such a line-up of consecutive releases. And what a list! Here we have the two bands that can be considered "founders" of the whole prog-metal thing, DREAM THEATER and FATES WARNING; and a name that in prog-metal circles commands respect and admiration because of his previous multi-artist conceptual works, Arjen Lucassen, and his main project, AYREON. Three albums by three big names in less than two months, enough to quench any fan's thirst and to rekindle any waning interest in the genre, wouldn't we say?

Reality, though, offered me a much bleaker, desolate picture. Of the three, only one really managed to live up to its name and my expectations: FATES WARNING, a band that was quite the acquired taste when I first heard them long ago, and that still requires some work getting into, but that nevertheless is so evidently full of talent and ideas that it should and will be reviewed somewhere else in a much brighter light. The remaining three? My typical favorites DREAM THEATER, a shadow of their former self (since the days of Scenes from a Memory really), further falling into oblivion with just a few moments and tracks that save them from utter irrelevance, a quintet that seems happy trying to convince fans that they still play it "faster and more technically" than anybody else, something that isn't even true anymore.

The hardest fall of the once mighty is definitely the one taken by the Dutch one-man rock idea called AYREON. Probably (and, maybe in a sad sign of the weaknesses of our genre's most revered "heroes"), precisely because he is the one who actually tried to do more than what he usually does. Curiosity didn't kill the cat in this case: pretentiousness did. The cat tried to be a tiger and ended up drowning in a river of nothingness.

Nothingness. That word defines this new attempt by Mr. Lucassen to submerge us in the oceans of space and time that he has successfully managed to get us into in the past. But while former space odysseys occurred amidst fantastic vistas of the universe and through constellations of stars and actual musical magic, The Theory of Everything seems like the perfect analogy to a trip through the void of outer space, where nothing sticks, nothing sounds, nothing matters.

The main problem with AYREON's new album is that, somehow, Mr. Lucassen seems to have decided to ignore what made his previous albums work. Yes, those were conceptual albums, with entertaining if a little convoluted, but still coherent, stories, with several artists trying to perform some sort of "rock operas" with multiple roles and personnel changes, but at their core, they still were rock (or metal, let's be generic for a second) albums, they still had great songs. Placing any previous AYREON disc on a tray came with a guarantee of at least a few memorable songs and the promise of some really good ones, with the hopeful expectation of at least one or two fantastic tracks per album. The dual album known as The Universal Migrator, AYREON's apex in my opinion, was full of these; the also-dual work Into The Electric Castle didn't trail the former by much; the band's (it really isn't a band but let's call it one for simplicity's sake) original effort, The Final Experiment, was a grower which improved after every listen and that showed its song-writing qualities even from the start; even their most derided album to date, Actual Fantasy, contains many really memorable songs that still speak Mr. Lucassen's favorite language but which are delivered in a very direct approach. Granted, the last two albums, The Human Equation and 01011001, weren't plethoric with memorable songs but without a doubt they showed Mr Lucassen's at his most daring while still maintaining the basic rock/metal allegiance to directness, energy, and accessibility.

He seems to have decided to let that all behind in The Theory of Everything. What he has delivered now is a constant stream of music with no borders, no gravity to speak in space terms, no center to hold it all together and no real direction. The discs are divided in over 20 tracks each, many just existing as an excuse for Mr Lucassen to be able to play all the millions of riffs and combine them with all the millions of effects he had in his mind at least for a few seconds, trying not to waste any single one of them. Sadly, the more of these he uses, the more he is actually wasting them since they become irrelevant tidbits that come and go without leaving any proper impression behind. And what's to be found in-between all these little fragments? Songs totally devoid of any song-like qualities, songs that have no memorable or even discernible choruses, songs that aren't proper songs, songs that also fly in and out of orbit without making the least of impacts in the listener, songs that make no effort in trying to stick in one's mind.

Our good old Mr. Lucassen, obvious fan of Pink Floyd and The Beatles and even Bowie (this last one I mention it by reference), seems to have decided to ignore the quite remarkable rock-song-writing skills of his mentors and tried to deliver some sort of Wagnerian music drama for which his style of music and, apparently, his skills, are quite less than well-suited for. An endless stream of music is beyond Mr Lucassen's rock sensibilities and it shows, even though at moments he actually manages to make some sort of leitmotif (more of a cyclical return in reality) out of the surprisingly good riff that opens the proceedings. Because we can say that much: the album opens with a blast and it really sets our expectations high from the very first bars, sadly only to bring them down to total collapse the longer the disc keeps spinning.

Mr. Lucassen, you have given me some of the greatest moments in the rock/metal side of my musical life, I know it is within you to produce great space-rock anthems that honor your heritage as a disciple of Pink Floyd, and some memorable melodies that speak of your enjoyment of the Liverpool gang. But it would appear to me that you have forgotten that this is rock'n roll (ok, metal) music after all, and it needs to have songs, to have some directness and memorability attached to it. Have you ever been to a jazz or classical music concert? There's zero noise in the audience, people are there only to listen (with the odd society lady always trying to show off her new outrageous dress thrown in the mix for sure). Have you ever been to a rock concert? What you will encounter there is a communal experience of band and audience singing, moving, sometimes dancing, head-banging, destroying things together, in an informal rite that appeals to the need of rock fans to sing their lungs out, to feel the energy in the air, to be reflected in their rock heroes. Rock is about energy. But to do that rock fans need songs, need some sort of tune, need something to remember. I understand that the very structure (or lack thereof) of AYREON as a band renders it the best vehicle for purely static experimentations that don't need audience feedback, yes, AYREON is no live band; but you still are making rock (or metal, whatever), you still depend on a musical language that demands memorability and directness just as a human being needs air to survive. You've never been on the "avant-garde" side of the rock world, and you have proven to be a master at what you do. But now you have gone (or tried to go) too far.

Again, it is curious that of the 4 mighty bands I was talking about at the beginning the one that tried to evolve is the one that most glaringly has failed to do so. Amazingly enough, there have been prog-rock bands that have released no-chorus, no-song endless streams of music with a higher degree of success than AYREON has here, but they started from different places anyway.

The Theory of Everything is thus sort of a theory of nothing. I will recognize the effort and the obvious instrumental talent at display here, and no serious person could give this album one star, because it's still way above that sewer-low level and because it has moments where the brilliance of the individuals (including Mr. Lucassen himself) manages to shine through. But considering the background, the type of experience we are used to with AYREON, the quality of earlier albums, the fall is that much harder.

There's no need to discuss the quality of the lyrics/story. Nobody would ever have bought an AYREON album for the stories only, without some great prog rock/metal music backing them.

This album might be the one where the relative importance of both is at its closest. And that speaks ill for that which we get to experience through the ears. Somebody out there might actually buy this for the story alone.

This mighty deserves a 2.5.

Report this review (#1071963)
Posted Monday, November 4, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the first time I write a review of an album , and what better to write about Ayreon and " The Theory of Everything "

I not compare this work with previous work of Lucassen , each has qualities and innovations that stand by themselves , which are unique and unrepeatable .

The Theory of Everything , if it is very true that not it has many new features in music ( melody, rhythm , etc. ) have this new format that had never presented Arjen, to manage " suites " as short tracks , and not a track, they use many groups in your albums.

Imagine voices, of Ayreon, is easy, but finding the perfect voices, suitable for each of their characters, only Arjen. And the instrumentalists... are gods.

The little that is new in this delivery, not enough for a good job . Which protrudes from this album?, as in many of Arjen , is the ability to create tracks so melodic , so harmonious , rhythmic . Compasses , notes, well designed and simple, not need to be trained in music to feel the music with Arjen.

This disc has what characterizes all the other projects Arjen. And Ayreon, alone is fantastic. Regardless of all progressive masters that are in this album (masters ... gods ... progressive rock legends ) the musical idea is awesome , the interpretation, instrumental technique and vocalists make further highlight this beautiful work .

Possibly Arjen had in mind another result, trying to change the style that their other albums had. The only problem I see in the design of work of Lucassen , is the obsession with metal. Arjen has a giant musical brain so that could explode perfectly in any other genre that was not metal. But all , all work are with metal, that does not mean it is not good at it, on the contrary, is a genius, is a master of his other projects , but it has become very repetitive. Maybe I should try to work in other genres other than metal, has too many excellent progressive rock influences and divine creativity.

And working only the metal,should experiment with new things, take risks and invest more or propose different views to achieve make their excellent work, and all this within Ayreon. Because makes everything different in other proposed projects ( Guilt Machine, Star One , Stream of Passion, solo )

Ayreon is a project so ambitious , so unique, full of creativity; lyrical and musical , which needs to be renewed by necessity, is so big, so huge is Ayreon , that need not be limited.

A rating of 5/5 is well earned , it worked well . Five stars because it tells a good story, five stars because I do not change the essence of Ayreon; musical characteristics that are as unique to Ayreon. Five stars for their creativity that surrounds all his cosmogony , five stars for the music, with good hues. Chiaroscuro.

Hopefully that Arjen, continues to do stories , creating music that it great, because it does very well. and discover what hides in the mind of Arjen.

Report this review (#1071977)
Posted Monday, November 4, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Genius". "Masterpiece". These two words get thrown around constantly on internet forums and in discussions about Ayreon's albums. This album is no different, but for anybody who doesn't know, here's a little back story...

Ayreon is the creation of Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen, with albums centred around and heavily influenced by science fiction stories and space operas. Most of the albums feature a cast of characters and tell a story, mainly linked to a "meta-story", told over most of the albums. Instead of singing and playing all the parts himself, however, Arjen assembles various musicians and vocalists from both classic rock acts(Marillion, Focus) and contemporary metal(Iron Maiden, Rhapsody, Stratovarius) alike, to enhance the depth and breadth of the experience. Indeed, most albums are almost a who's who of alternative music.

With The Theory of Everything, Arjen begins a new story for the Ayreon vehicle, with another new cast of characters, and musicians. Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess all have guest keyboard slots, and Genesis' Steve Hackett guests on guitar. Standout vocals come from Christina Scabbia(Lacuna Coil), Sara Squadrani (Ancient Bards) and Michael Mills(Toehider). This is the first album on which Arjen does not sing himself, which is a shame as I enjoy his voice on his other work.

With runtimes similar to many feature films, the main body of Ayreon's work can be a little overwhelming at first, sometimes requiring a few listens to fully interpret the story and enjoy all the nuances. I found this album a little easier to digest, as the story was a lot less complex, with much of the scientific jargon plaguing previous albums replaced by more relatable feelings, or emotions(I remember!). As such the final realisation, or as I like to call it, the wow moment, was less satisfactory, but came quicker than say on "Into the Electric Castle". This ease of listening is compounded by the splitting of the four 20+ minute tracks into subtracks, aiding digestion of the music. A few of these subtracks are ambient, and I detect an influence of Klaus Schultz, or Tangerine Dream.

The standout component of the album for me though is the production. The guitars are tight, and Arjen's distinctive and easily recognisable keyboard/synth soars beautifully over the top. The overall sound is big, but is mixed well, with almost no clipping and nothing too prominent in the mix. Arjen seems to have a midas touch, and has this ability to bring out some of the best work from his guests. With a roster of musicians this good, and that inate ability of his, this album is worthy of the term "masterpiece", and Mr Lucassen stamps home his genius.

9/10

Report this review (#1073028)
Posted Wednesday, November 6, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars I don't tend to write reviews here, but as other reviewers noted, this case requires it.

There is no need to review the artistic size of the album. With the cast that Arjen collected, the performance of all vocals and instruments was bound to be virtuoso. There was no other option. I mean.. when I saw Palmer, Wakeman and Hackett apart from all other names, my jaw dropped. And their musical skill does not disappoint. They know their stuff. Better than I do. It would be an insult to them if I even thought of criticizing their performance.

What cries for .. a rant? an opinion?.. is this album itself, as a concept. It is no uncommon thing to find epic compositions in the prog world. I mean it's even encouraged - give your listener more time to feel the ambiance, the mood and build him up to something that will blow him away. And will keep blowing him away for the rest of the day. Or life. But to achieve this requires true genius. I mean 'thick as a brick' level of genius.

Album-wise, first - the storyline. I am not going to put it down here, that would be a spoiler. But to be honest, the best I can say about it is 'simple'. I mean, we got used to epic sci-fi fantasy from Arjen. It was awesome. So maybe it's just that I am reluctant to accept change? But alas. the previous album 0101...10123 storyline did not shine as well. It was such a contrast with the human equation's depth and emotion, that I couldn't believe it. At times, when listening to 01101.. i was wondering if it is actually banal, or is it just me? The theory of everything isn't banal. But it's so unoriginal I want to cry. I actually read a classic novel just last month which was pretty much this storyline. Just made interesting and deep. The storyline in the album just sounds cliché, and is so oversimplified.. But hey, we don't have to listen to a lot of it. I got the impression that there is much more instrumental parts in between the vocals (story-telling), compared to previous Ayreon projects.

But the instrumental parts are the most frustrating! It is hard to 'get into' this album. It starts amazing. I mean from the word go, it grabs interest, the first instrumental part is just oh-so- good that i lock the door and turn off the phone not wanting anybody to disturb my nirvana experience for the next 90 minutes. And then the nirvana leaves. I am trying to soak myself in the musical experience but it doesn't let me any more! Again and again, one can feel the music actually having direction and a proper plan, leading me to something epic. I smile and close my eyes - this is going to be it! - but just as I finish the thought it goes away and a new harmonic theme starts, leaving me pretty baffled. I mean the riffs and themes themselves are good-to-great-to-amazing. But there are so many of them, changing so rapidly, I don't have the time to appreciate them! Oh Arjen. I want, i so want to love this album but every time I get close to hugging it with adoration it seems to slip out of my grasp and change inside out. In the end what I end up doing, is memorizing the timestamps of particular themes, and listening to them 2-4 times in one go, before letting it move on the the next chapter, simply to give me the time to enjoy it for a decent amount of time, before i have to readjust. That seems to do the trick!

I have to contradict the opinion stated in other reviews: No, 'songs' as a concept with choruses and predefined structures are not immovable objects. Plenty of examples to illustrate this. I am always interested when somebody goes 'the other way' and records his personal way. It's great. But it is SOOO difficult to move away from this paradigm, that it becomes dangerous to tamper with the idea.

In the end, as I mentioned before, this album leaves me in an ambiguous mood. So many times I was on the verge of 'this is epically amazing' - the same amount of times i was left never having gotten to that point in the end, it is frustrating! But all in all, it is still probably one the better things to come out this year, and well worth anybody's 90 minutes of 'me-time- in-the-music-room-do-not-disturb'. The performances of each instrument are as close to perfect as it is possible. The effects are great. It is the putting of all of them together where it falls down from being a masterpiece to good/excellent. In the end it feels like somebody gave you a candy, and as you unwrapped it, took it away, giving you another wrapped one to enjoy. It is by far not a 5 star, and probably doesn't feel like a 4. But thinking about it, 3 would probably be an under evaluation. Just for that reason, it's going to be a 4.

Report this review (#1073704)
Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars In the 'making of' CD, Lucassen says his goal was to make a musical journey akin to those he listened to as a kid. Having listened to the whole album multiple times, I think it's fair to say he achieved this goal. The album is not only musically superb, with many amazing solos, instrumentals and beautiful vocals, but also has a fun compelling storyline. To really explain why I love this album so much would take way to long so I'm just going to recommend people buy it! It is a prog masterpiece, one of my favourite albums of all time!
Report this review (#1073762)
Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars When I was reading about this record I got interested because the project seems to be so huge. Four gigantic pieces of music in length and an honerable list of people, among the best in the history of prog is facts hard to neglect. Ayreon is the project of Arjen Lucassen, a competent Dutch musician who plays a lot of instruments an has made eight records since 1995. "The Story of Everything" is a mastodont project, in form of a rock opera in four long parts. Beside Arjen Lucassen who plays guitars, bass, mandolin, synthesizers, hammond and Solina strings there are many famous names of musicians such as Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess and Steve Hackett and among the vocalist I must mention John Wetton. Those aren't everybody, some haven't I mentioned, but something in their persons gives a glimpse of hope this could be a fantastic record.

Okey then, is the record so fantastic? Yes, at least partially when the soundscape surprises us with both acoustic and electric magic. Part one and four are the best of the four, and Ayreon has tied the heels together in a decent way. It's important to say that such long tracks crave time for many listenings to really understand them and to be honest I have just listened twice. Still I believe my opinion is fair, I don't use to listen much before rating, that should be unfair to all of the others. "Phase I: Singularity" is the best 23 minutes of this record. I'd call it a beautiful mixture of styles and professionality. The symphonic theme melody is wonderful and takes it worthy place. In the last third of the song we enjoy keyboards of grand levels, with both style and structure like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, probably it's mr Emerson himself. Jeroen Goossens' flute work is also worth its praising and makes it a true symphonic work. Though don't i really think the track works very well in total, I like pieces here and there(7/10). "Phase II: Symmetry" starts with a dark beautiful vocal but those voices who follow aren't so intriguing. Even this track has fine symphonic structures but even here do I think the parts are better than the entity(5/10). "Phase III: Entanglement" find I to be the worst track on the record(4/10) even if I love the folk influences. I hold on to my earlier statement that parts are great but absolutely not everything. Happily is the last track "Phase IV:Unification" better again with nice female vocals and this long track contains a lot of grand symphonic structures.

So what shall I say about this? It's absolutely too much music for me; 90 minutes is lovely when you love what's in there. Ayreon should have concentrated more on two tracks instead of four. But that is just my opinion. "The Theory Of Everything" contains so much great that I find it impossible to just give two stars. This record is good but too long and uneven.

Report this review (#1074143)
Posted Friday, November 8, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is possibly my favorite Ayreon album. Ayreon albums are like a gigantic puzzles where Arjen moves the pieces around until it completes a theme oriented rock opera. I do not know if anyone can create this since it is such an enormous undertaking to write, compose, and organize all of the pieces. For this reason, Arjen is a genius to be able to encompass all of these intertwining variables in grandiose fashion. He clearly has the skill and personality to pull off these albums time and time again, and it is a true gift.

On this album, what stands out to me is that it has some big name musicians and fewer vocalists than the previous effort. The keyboards from Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, and Jordan Rudess are wicked good. This has been such an enjoyable album for me, that I hope Arjen continues to create them.

Report this review (#1074165)
Posted Friday, November 8, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars An ambitious title and album, AYREON has yet again produced another rock opera masterpiece. After five years since the release of "01011001", the creative genius Arjen Lucassen and the amazing line-up of talented musicians created one of AYREON's best efforts yet: "The Theory of Everything". I consider this album to be on par with "Into the Electric Castle" and "The Human Equation".

"The Theory of Everything" has shown a progression while still maintaining AYREON's fundamental sound. There are still male and female vocalists and guest instrumentalists that make the album a rock opera. "The Theory of Everything" is unique in that there are only four songs, each of which is 20+ minutes in length. Each song is split into smaller segments, but as a whole they combine to make four strong epics. I generally like this idea and I think it works well for AYREON. There was nice progression in "The Human Equation" and songs were generally linked together well; it's no different in "The Theory of Everything". Like past albums, "The Theory of Everything" tells a story, however it is not in a sci-fi context like the rest of AYREON's albums (excluding "The Human Equation").

"The Theory of Everything" is sporting a dream team of a line-up. Legendary keyboardists Rick Wakeman (YES), Keith Emerson (ELP), and Jordan Rudess (DREAM THEATER) contribute solos on "Surface Tension" and "Progressive Waves", ranging from fast and technical to slower and melodic, each of which are very impressive and memorable. Steve Hackett (GENESIS) plays lead guitar and contributes a solid solo on "The Parting". Of course, there is no AYREON without the flutes and pipes, and they are very prominent on this album.

This album also showcases a variety of strong vocalists. The most notable mention is Tommy Karevik (KAMELOT, SEVENTH WONDER) and his befitting role as the prodigy. For someone who did not have vocal lessons, Tommy Karevik has superior singing talent. At his age, he can be considered a prodigy in the progressive rock / metal vein. His singing is very similar to the work he's done in SEVENTH WONDER, and I think it's the best range for him. His presence definitely strengthens the album, though he doesn't have as many parts as I would have preferred. I am unfamiliar with the other vocalists, but they do not disappoint. Also, Arjen Lucassen doesn't sing on this album, which is disappointing because his vocal ability is understated.

However, Arjen is still doing the majority of the musical composition. He also plays a wide variety of instruments on this album, from the Hammond organ and analog synthesizers to the acoustic and electric guitars. The melodies on this album are a testament to his musical genius. Let us not forget the drummer, Ed Warby, who has done the drumming work on almost every AYREON album. I've loved his drumming since I first listened to "Into the Electric Castle" and "The Human Equation". His proficiency creatively adds to the musical mix that is "The Theory of Everything".

Overall this album is one of the best releases of 2013. Like every AYREON album, "The Theory of Everything" is a little bit on the long side, clocking in at 1 hour 30 minutes. The long album length should not deter new listeners, as the album is broken up into four songs. Also, there is a lot of material on this album, so it takes a while for it to sink in and truly appreciate.

This album left me with this phenomenal feeling that I got when I first listened to "The Human Equation". A jaw-dropping and hair-raising musical journey produced from yet another masterpiece. I recommend this album to anyone, especially fans of AYREON and progressive metal.

Report this review (#1077920)
Posted Saturday, November 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars While I don't find this album to be the masterpiece progressive rock opera that many here have deemed it, "The Theory Of Everything" as a prog album provides the listener with an astounding experience.

And a big surprise is the guest musicians. Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett and John Wetton are here. The last time we had so many veterans of the top 70s prog acts together we ended up with the disappointment called Asia. Arjen Lucassen does a superb job of using their talents not as cheap celebrity cameos but to truly elevate his already splendid music. He even has the audacity to pit Emerson against Jordan Rudess on the track Progressive Waves.

Throughout the album, Lucassen has provided top notch metal tinged symphonic prog that drives his story along. That's where my issues with this album lie. He has created splendid and exciting music, but it is not meant to stand on it's own. It's there as part of the rock opera. Each piece gets into a heavy and exciting groove, but every track is so short that we don't have time to fully enjoy what he has written, and the amazing performances before the music changes completely.

And, unlike many of the great rock operas of the past, "Tommy", "Quadrophenia", "The Lamb Lies Down On Breoadway", and even lesser works like "Snow", Lucassen doesn't tie the work together enough with recurring themes. It often sounds like many short ideas thrown together in a patchwork manner.

Nonetheless, I can't seem to stop listening to this. Another great album in a great year for prog.

Report this review (#1079427)
Posted Wednesday, November 20, 2013 | Review Permalink
admireArt
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars This work could easily be reffered as a "Study Guide for the Theory and Practice of the Protocols of Progressive/Rock". It, of course is named " The Theory Of Everything", and somehow, you will listen to almost all of these "tools" of and for composition, in this musical style. To call it only Prog/Metal, will turn out to be unwise, because these "protocols" extend themselves all over the Prog "language". Top of their fields performers, add up for the perfect understanding of this "study guide".

Now up to now things seem okay, BUT throughout the work divided in 4 parts, you will rarely find some kind of personal language, Ayreon's one, I mean. He will deliver tons of references ( from the "Tull" to "the Crimson King" and everything in between), besides the "tones and sounds" of his, very famous colleagues, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, John Wetton and Steve Hackett, which by the way are TOP players with a very distinguishable "sound", but not exactly top composers. AND this is this project's main flaw. It covers all practical bases, but does NOT offer something NEW to the genre or style, composition wise, besides being a very good work, performance like, that deserves, the now somehow underrated, ***3 PA stars.

In some way the "The Theory of Everything" turn out to be just to be that, "Theory".

Report this review (#1080708)
Posted Saturday, November 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover Team
4 stars So there I was listening to this album, and I found that I was extremely intrigued by some of the keyboard passages as some of them sounded like Wakeman, but others were a direct Emerson lift, so it got me wondering just who was playing on this. So I investigated and my jaw hit the floor, as not only was Arjen Anthony Lucassen providing some of the keys (it is his concept after all so he can do what he likes), but he had been joined by Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess! Talk about having the heavyweights of the keyboard world involved! To then notice that Steve Hackett was providing the lead guitars was just the icing on the cake, there can't be many times when these guys have all played on the same album. Ayreon has always been renowned for having some of the finest singers involved, and for this one Arjen has restricted himself to just seven, none of whom have previously performed on an Ayreon album. From the symphonic side we have Marko Hietala (Nightwish) and Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), while Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and JB (Grand Magus) represent the metalheads. There are two relatively unknowns in Michael Mills (Toehider) and Sara Squadrani (Ancient Bards), while the line-up is completed by none other than John Wetton (I haven't got room to list all of the major bands he has been with, so let's just say King Crimson and leave it at that).

No science fiction story here this time, but rather how two parents deal with their savant child and the ramifications of that approach. The double CD set is broken into 42 songs, and is approximately 90 minutes long, and there are some astounding passages of music within this while the vocals are stunning. But, there are times when it doesn't quite come off, and this is mostly when Arjen is trying to force the lyrics to fit in more of the storyline and it is just doesn't seem to scan as well as it should. There also isn't enough melodic repetition of ideas within the whole for it to work seamlessly as a complete piece of music, with many of the songs being very short indeed. While there are times when this is sheer brilliance, I found that when comparing it against Clive Nolan's 'Alchemy' which was also released this year, it doesn't contain the same level of continuity and travel. However, it is still an incredible piece of work and something that I have found myself returning to time and again. I was a little surprised to see that Ian Anderson wasn't involved as Jeroen Goossens has obviously been playing close attention and some of his playing contains exactly the same attack and inflections that one would expect from the master.

Overall this is a big album, with big ideas and a huge sound that is complex and incredibly powerful but somehow just hits short of the masterpiece level. It is still an incredible album all the same.

Report this review (#1086235)
Posted Friday, December 6, 2013 | Review Permalink
Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars I'd be the first to admit I'm usually not the biggest fan of Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Ayreon. The guy himself is an extraordinary talent, but too often for me the project presents the most deadly serious, stuffy, overblown spectacle without a trace of subtlety or sense of humour. The music is overloaded with a paint-by-numbers prog/metal approach, dialed totally up to 11, with an abundance of metal and theatrical kitsch worked in for good measure. Maybe the biggest hurdle for he has always been the over-the-top metal voices, which have never been a favourite type of vocal for me. So long story short, I've found Ayreon more than a little embarrassing.

So imagine my surprise when I found that the latest double album `The Theory of Everything' finally clicked with me. Don't get me wrong, it's still completely full of the above mentioned details, but I think this time I'd been warmed up to the idea by two other works. Earler this year, Clive Nolan's theatrical symphonic masterpiece `Alchemy' was unleashed, my favourite album of 2013, and a little earlier Lucassen's wonderful solo album `Lost in the New Real' truly won me over with it's colour, sense of fun and relaxed vocals from the man himself. Both of those albums seem to have given me an opening to enjoying this one, and although it doesn't reach the same heights for me, it's still impossibly grand and excessive prog music that is extremely satisfying on repeated listens.

A double album on both CD and LP, it's comprised of four 21-plus minute pieces, and although it may look like the Lucaassen equivalent of Yes' `Tales From Topographic Oceans', don't be fooled! It's not exactly the same genre-breaking tour-de-force that album was, but it's still very ambitious, even if it sticks to a similar format and sound that previous Ayreon works offered. The overall concept revolves around a group of individuals involved in the discovery of a complex set of equations with the potential to change the world as we know it, and a web of jealousy, suspect motivations and conflicted intentions unfold throughout the album. Taking in the viewpoint and inner monologue of different characters over a course of multiple time-frames, the story is tensely dramatic, exciting and confronting for the entiretyof the near 90 minute running time.

A frequently orchestral soft metal theatrical symphony might be a quick way to describe all the music here! Some parts of it come awfully chose to the brooding atmosphere of Pink Floyd's `The Wall' and `Welcome To The Machine'. There's brief electronic diversions like late 70's/early 80's Tangerine Dream, many other sections recall prog-metal bands like `Mindcryme'-era Queensryche, but rarely so heavy to ever actually resemble proper heavy metal or overloaded with suffocating technicality. Often the vocal passages have a confident and pleasing AOR smoothness, even recalling the sophistication of the Alan Parsons Project. The instrumental sections offer a truly wordly adventure, with numerous grand orchestral flourishes that incorporate a range of Celtic and even middle eastern themes, and the aggressive darting flute and violin almost aligns the music with the classic Italian bands. Other terrific reviewers on the Prog Archives go into greater track specifics, as well as the concept in better detail, so I'll leave that up to their superior descriptions.

Lucassen has the pull to ask for contributions from a number of legendary progressive musicians for this work. Rick Wakeman offers some lovely piano and Mini Moog solos (honestly, the guy is really in his element here!), Keith Emerson has a brief Modular Moog run, Jordan Rudess a synthesizer passage, Troy Donockley brings classy pipes and whistles, and Steve Hackett unleashes a ripping guitar solo near the end of the second disc. But special mention must go to UK/Asia/King Crimson maestro John Wetton's marvellous vocal contribution. Sounding better than ever, the guy must surely be on something of a roll after his memorable appearance on District 97's recent `The Trouble With Machines'. The high quality of the main vocals are performed by a number of vocalists more aligned with the metal end of music from bands such as Nightwish and Lacuna Coil, I'm sure many listeners will be more familiar with them than I am, but they are all excellent here and more than up to the task of conveying the story and it's different characters.

But as much of a selling point the legends of the genre here will be to some listeners, it's actually the core line-up of players that make the most impact. Ben Mathot's violin, Maaike Peterse's cello and Jereon Goossens' flute/other wind instruments positively dominate, their dazzling playing covering almost the entire show. Same too for Siddharta Barnhoorn's lush and sweeping orchestration, Ed Warby's subtly complex drumming, and of course Arjen himself is an effortless master of numerous instruments, his searing guitar solos, thick atmospheric bass and keyboard washes are all over the album. It's these musicians who should especially be praised and not have their achievements ignored compared to the more famous names present.

Although I probably prefer his lighter solo album `Lost in the New Real' over this (and I'm looking forward to the eventual follow-up!), there's no denying Lucassen is worthy of the status he has in the prog industry. His work with Ayreon is pure heavy concept and big spectacle, everything so painfully and carefully constructed, expertly performed and arranged, and he more or less shares the same kind of ludicrous, bombastic approach that made Rick Wakeman so (in)famous in the Seventies. None of what I said is actually an insult, it's simply giving him credit for a type of prog rock that thrills a great many listeners, who cherish and welcome a new Ayreon album as a truly special event.

Four stars.

Report this review (#1086717)
Posted Saturday, December 7, 2013 | Review Permalink
J-Man
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Like most of Arjen Lucassen's bombastic metal operas released under the Ayreon monicker, The Theory of Everything had quite a few heads turning before it even hit shelves in late 2013. A list of guest musicians that includes seventies' prog legends like Steve Hackett, John Wetton, Keith Emerson, and Rick Wakeman is sure to grab enough attention, but when one also considers the presence of musicians from Nightwish, Dream Theater, Kamelot, Lacuna Coil, Grand Magus, and many others, it's crystal-clear why so many folks had high hopes for The Theory of Everything. Fortunately, Ayreon's eighth observation lives up to, and even exceeds, these expectations. A breathtaking conceptual masterpiece that easily ranks up there with Lucassen's finest, The Theory of Everything is sure to top plenty of "best-of" lists as the year comes to a close.

For those familiar with Ayreon's previous outings, this one doesn't change things up too much - like most of the other releases, The Theory of Everything is a double concept album that tells a detailed story through the lens of progressive metal music, although there are still a few notable changes. This album feels much more like a single piece of continuous music than other Ayreon albums, largely due to the fact that it is split into four large "phases" rather than individual songs. There are also a number of repeated themes and motifs throughout The Theory of Everything, and although other Ayreon albums featured recurring ideas, this one feels even more unified than Lucassen's previous masterworks.

The Theory of Everything is the sort of record that has grabbed me in a way that very few releases manage to - in addition to feeling memorable after only a couple spins, the music here is detailed enough to make every subsequent listen feel even more rewarding. Lucassen's bombastic approach to songwriting and arrangement has always sounded genuine to my ears, and although some folks will still find Ayreon to be too overblown for its own good, this album is a captivating delight for all fans of epic progressive metal operas. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't get much better than The Theory of Everything!

Report this review (#1093695)
Posted Friday, December 20, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Having loved Ayreon's last album, I was so excited to hear that Arjen had decided to get this project off the ground again. Not sure whether this was due to his failed projects Guilt Machine and his first solo album, but whatever...I am so glad to see him get this project off the ground again.

Now Arjen's reason for stopping the project was due to the criticism on Ayreon's last album "01011001." Now personally, this album is one of my all time favourites, but some harsh words from critics who claimed the album to be "the same old thing". Hurt by these comments, Arjen decided to put the Ayreon project to bed...but now he's decided to wake it up, and it's ready, awake and an album is here for us to listen to.

Now, Ayreon's biggest quality is the ability to take some of the greatest talent in music. And I have to admit, I was rather surprised at who he got. With big names like John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia) Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder) and Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot), the vocals really shine, with each vocalist surprising me and impressing me multiple times throughout. The biggest shock was seeing Michael Mills name on the credits. Being from a rather unknown band called Toehider, who I've just recently gotten into these past years. I knew this dude was a good singer...but...wow...people need to check the talent this guy has. JB from Grand Magus also has one hell of a role in this album too. One of the slight criticisms I had with this album (same I had with "The Human Equation") was the lack of attention focused on the main character. The Prodigy (as played by Tommy Karevik) is really one of the top vocalists for this album, but sadly he really doesn't get a big enough part, which is a shame. I do think allowing the other vocalists time was a good idea, but a bit more focus on him really would have fleshed this album a lot more.

The musical line up is also a lot bigger than it has ever been. Bringing in some help from Jordan Rudess, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Steve Hackett, Troy Donockley and some other famous faces. I have to admit, with this help, musically this project hasn't been stronger. In fact, this also may be Ayreon's heaviest album to date.

Story wise, it's a rather odd one. Based around the trials and tribulations of a child prodigy, the album does have a pretty strong and encapsulating narrative throughout. I have to admit, some of the lyrics aren't the best in the world, but as you listen and enjoy, you get hooked. Also, no spoilers, but a rather surprising twist can be seen at the end...which in all fairness, I really liked.

Whenever I saw the track listing for the album, I was surprised slightly. 4 big suites! My first impression was...'is this going to be some sort of "Tales Of A Topographic Ocean." Luckily it wasn't. Unlike Yes, this album doesn't seem too over indulgent...in fact, it's pretty to point, which is one of the reasons I actually liked the suites being split into separate tracks. Now, I wouldn't have minded 4 long tracks, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the separate tracks.

In conclusion, I am rather mixed with this album. By far this isn't the best or worst effort from Ayreon...but at least it's something different. While the music and vocals in this album are absolutely stellar, the songwriting isn't as strong, due to the lack of hooks and songs that where in the previous albums. Still a great album from Arjen, and proves that what he thought was getting old is still sought after, and whatever he decides to do next, there will always be an audience for Ayreon.

Report this review (#1097941)
Posted Monday, December 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars 10/10

I have to admit : I'm terribly addicted to this album. In a year which, in my opinion, is the best prog year of recent times, Ayreon gained its place in the heart with me with their most bold new work , " The Theory of Everything " . I confess that no other album released in 2013 had so many listens mine. Because both spent time without a computer and I could not hear new material from other bands and because , as I said , I was hooked. Since I had only heard two albums Arjen until then, Into the Electric Castle and The Human Equation , I'm happy that my opinions are inclined more to the second than the first .

Due to the division of music I like to think of it as a kind of modern Tales From Topographic Oceans . Yes , I know the setlist of 42 songs was released ( Douglas Adams is proud of that reference) , but they are grouped into four epics just over 20 minutes each . So I prefer songs that are 4 instead of 42 . And anyway , these short songs are intertwined such that you can not think of them as separate songs , but as something greater . And try as he heard one of them ( or even just listen to one of the epics ) , and just can not hear the whole album.

This is one of the points that differentiate The Theory of Everything from the rest of the discography Ayreon, the other being the letters. Aside from The Human Equation, no other album had a lyrical content that fled to science fiction. I will not go into details about the album concept, as other reviewers have already done this role more effectively here, but I can say that I heed not so much a concept as this. My English is not good, my knowledge of this language is sparse, but repeated listens have made me realize several points in history, especially the father and son's relationship.

Good, but beyond these differences, how are the similarities? TTE has everything you've ever heard an album Ayreon: exuberant musicianship, diverse influences and sounds, vocalists and guests very reputed and quality instrumentalists. About vocalists, I knew no further than John Wetton, but by God, they were the best vocals I've ever heard in my life! There is no weak, absolutely no. Each singer has his moment, as well as several duets representing the "dialogues" of history. I am appalled at all these singers, and compelled to hear his bands!

What about the musicians ... let me say just a few names for you: Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess, Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett. Some of the supreme deities of prog in one single album. My friend, listen to the Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess's on Progressive Waves and understand why I say this is the wet dream of every progger and prog moment of 2013! Just phenomenal. That, and of course a lot of Hammond that will let anyone entranced and string instruments and blow. Oh, and a round of applause pro drummer Ed Warby please, it really has an amazing and diverse art and having done earned participation in every album project.

13/10. (Another) masterpiece of 2013!

Report this review (#1098551)
Posted Tuesday, December 24, 2013 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'The Theory of Everything' - Ayreon (8/10)

Back in 2008 when Ayreon released 01011001, I was taken aback by some of the criticism it received. Although there were those that still applauded Arjen Lucassen's bombast and ambitious scope, many more seemed to discredit the album for what interpreted as an overly familiar approach. Though my opinion doesn't appear to be shared by many others, I thought (and still think) that 01011001 was a masterpiece, a natural culmination to the composer's metal opera cycle. Even so, Arjen's decision to start fresh with a new saga only fuelled my anticipation for The Theory of Everything. Arjen's familiar eclecticism remains, but this latest double-disc opus makes it abundantly clear that we've set foot in a new era for Ayreon. Though this artistic rejuvenation is welcome (and some might say necessary), this latest installment in Ayreon's proud catalogue feels scaled back when compared to the last two masterpieces. Though it doesn't compare favourably to Arjen's best work, The Theory of Everything is a strong foundation for a new progressive metal saga, and I'm interested in see where he'll take it next.

Outside of the atrociously disappointing Dream Theater and the latest instant classic from Haken, The Theory of Everything sparked my anticipation moreso than any prog record released in the past year. Admittedly upon first sitting down to listen to the album in its entirety, I met Ayreon's latest opus with disappointment. Not only did it feature the least impressive cast of vocalists since Actual Fantasy, it had also exchanged satisfying song structures for an onslaught of bite-sized segments, tied together with some semblance of an epic. Though my biggest gripes with The Theory of Everything have remained in part, appreciation grew with the dawning realization that Arjen had taken the risk of making a fresh start. Experienced on its own, The Theory of Everything reveals itself as a treasure trove of compelling musical ideas and passages, even if Arjen's pieced them all together a little awkwardly.

I've seen many people liken The Theory of Everything structurally to Yes' infamous (and equally brilliant) "Tales from Topographic Oceans"; a double album that consisted of four twenty-odd minute compositions. Although Arjen has broken this 42-track spectacle into four 'phases' (or sides), the tracks often feel like self-contained miniature ideas rather than pieces of an 'epic' whole. In bold rock operatic fashion, The Theory of Everything moves away from regular song structures in exchange for a more spontaneous theatrical flow. There is some clever use of recurring motifs sprinkled throughout the album, but for the most part, the musical ideas feel structured episodically. Although the 'phases' begin and end with important plot points relating to the album's concept, The Theory of Everything can feel pretty incoherent if listened to as a collection of four epics. Although I would have easily preferred more concise and focused compositions in the vein of 01011001 or Into the Electric Castle, repeated listens to the album do give the impression that the sheer quality of the ideas individually more than makes up for the perceived lack of conventional structure.

As for these ideas themselves, Arjen has once again outdone himself. Where other aspects of the album may suffer, the segments themselves sound as excellent and as epic as anything in the band's catalogue. There is a greater instrumental emphasis here than on albums past, and each of the four sides are home to epic segments. Ayreon's traditional fusion of traditional progressive metal, electronic, folk and classical music really shines here, and though The Theory of Everything is almost twice the length of your average album, the eclectic approach to instrumentation and style feels consistently fresh and engaging. When compared to past Ayreon albums, The Theory of Everything sounds a little more vintage, more reserved and indeed, less 'metal'. A few rhythmic eruptions like "Quantum Chaos" still earn the album a metal label, but I get the strong impression here that the second saga of Ayreon will see the project cater even more to its prog-based fans.

Hearing about the new cast of vocalists has always been the most exciting part of a new Ayreon album for me. In the past, Arjen Lucassen has had a fantastic taste in the voices he chooses for the characters, 01011001 had two of my favourite vocalists (Daniel Gildenlow of Pain of Salvation and Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian) on it, and The Human Equation featured contributions from Devin Townsend... bloody Devin Townsend! By contrast, The Theory of Everything's offering of vocalists from Lacuna Coil, Ancient Bards, Asia and Nightwish feels surprisingly weak in comparison. While it's still puzzling to see such a lack of prog and metal star power working with Ayreon this time around, the vocal performances are very good, if not excellent. Tommy Karevik (the latest singer of Kamelot) is chosen perfectly for the role of the opera's protagonist, and Grand Magus frontman Janne Christoffersson gives an excellence performance here as well, offering his voice for the role of the 'Teacher'. Otherwise, the vocals here aren't quite as dazzling as I thought they'd be, and I think I'll always bit a little disappointed that The Theory of Everything doesn't feature a more distinguished cast of guests.

Although the vocalists may not have been as dazzling as expected, Arjen makes up for it with an incredible cast of guest instrumentalists from across the prog spectrum. Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess and prog wizard Keith Emerson both stand out for their respective solos on "Progressive Waves". Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman and classic Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett are also featured. This emphasis on classic prog icons for guest appearances, paired with the more reserved musical style are both redolent of Arjen's intention on reinventing Ayreon with this album. Although some things have certainly changed, expert musicianship and stellar production standards remain Ayreon's signature. Although Arjen is prone to use disparate elements like folk and electronica in the same musical phrase, it's blended together brilliantly, and never feels forced, as often seems to be the case with many genre-bending proggers.

The Theory of Everything marks the first time since Actual Fantasy (in 1996) where an Ayreon album hasn't contributed to the overarching Ayreon concept mythology in some way. As 01011001 and the "Timeline" compilation released shortly thereafter made for a satisfying conclusion to Arjen's sci-fi epic, it's exciting to see the man moving onto a new saga. This time around, Arjen has chosen to step away from the overt science-fiction and fantasy tropes, instead choosing to build the story around psychologically believable characters and interpersonal drama. This approach has worked wonders for Ayreon in the past; his magnum opus The Human Equation made for compelling psychodrama in the purest sense, involving a protagonist interacting with personified manifestations of his emotions. In addition to its fascinating high concept, Arjen imbued the plot and characters with a surprising amount of depth for a rock opera. Although The Theory of Everything isn't as interesting a concept as The Human Equation, its story- pertaining to the struggles and moral dilemmas surrounding a mathematical genius- offers plenty of room for Arjen to explore much of the same psychology and relationships. Many tropes on The Human Equation are found again here: the neglectful father, the morally tainted protagonist, the concerned romantic interest. Although The Theory of Everything doesn't offer nearly as engaging of a plot, the psychological depth is once again striking. Each character is fuelled with their own distinct opinions and motivations, and no action within the story is without conflicting moral viewpoints for and against it. With that being said, it's not as compelling of a story as I would have hoped to hear on an Ayreon album. Although the story's potentially paranormal epilogue leaves me excited for where Arjen might take this saga next, the story seems to plod along at times, defaulting on praise or criticism of its hesitant protagonist. To those detractors that have long condemned Arjen's often complex sci-fi creations however, The Theory of Everything's more human approach might come as a welcome change of pace.

It's certainly not a perfect album, and not the masterpiece I was hoping to hear from Ayreon, but The Theory of Everything sounds rich and multilayered in spite of its weaknesses. Although a less impressive set of vocalists and convoluted album structure make for glaring issues, there are so many brilliant moments here that deserve to be heard by any self-respecting fan of modern prog. In spite of Arjen Lucassen's apparent intent to renovate his style, I don't imagine existing detractors of his work will be converted to the man's legion of rabid followers. Likewise, if you've enjoyed Ayreon in the past, the weaknesses here won't otherwise impede enjoyment of the experience. Ayreon has delivered a complex, bombastic, no-holds-barred progressive rock epic with The Theory of Everything, but then again, we wouldn't have expected any less of him anyways.

Report this review (#1104694)
Posted Tuesday, December 31, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars AYREON The Theory Of Everything: 9,5/10 Appreciate so much Arjen's messages on the titles of its musical great works: here "The Theory Of Everything" displays musically what he means for it...a full-optionals prig-rock opus, or opera. When reading first reviews I was perplexed about the fragmentation in 42 "parts", evoking probably that too many ideas could have been poorly developed. But right after a couple a spin, I'd say surprisingly due to the large amount of music at stake, this doubt vanished in a great musical listening experience, one of the best of the year and surely in par with the previous Ayreon's masterpiece (T.H.E.). Very cohesive, full of musical ideas and passages, great singers and tons of fun (I heard myself laughing for being treated so well...). No-bore, granted. Enjoy!

Report this review (#1105309)
Posted Thursday, January 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
GruvanDahlman
COLLABORATOR
Heavy Prog Team
4 stars Pretentious. Pompous. Overblown. Selfindulgent. Preposterous.

Well, those are just some of the words that comes to mind. And the words are kind. I mean them from the bottom of my heart and with the deepest admiration and love. I mean them as a token of appreciation, as words of praise, because aren't those words some of the most plain speaking when it comes to prog. For people outside the circle it may seem meant to put people off and words to describe the ludicrous excesses of the genre. Not for me. To me the words are the complete opposite and describes the very soul of the music known as progressive music.

I have listened to Ayreon before but I have never really got the hang of it. Sure, it is well played and extremely well composed but it has for me, historically, lacked the pieces that make me cry out in pure bliss. Until now. Ayreons latest album is a tour de force, an epic masterpiece of grandure and grace. I love it because of the words I started the review with and I love it because of the commitment and love to the genre that the music portrays. I love the music because it is contemporary still displaying all the classic elements of prog, mirroring the past as it glides into the present and (hopefully) the future. The elements are plain for anyone who listens. You find classical, folk, hard rock (or metal, if you wish) and everything in between. There's the wonder of the flute and the majestic organ of Rick Wakeman. Actually, I will refrain from namedropping since all participants are outstandingly on key every singe second of the album's entirety.

Though one might think that the four principal parts of the album, stretching over two discs, might be a little overbearing, you will soon find yourself heading down the highway, straight into a mindblowing opera of progressive greatness. The first part is stunning and is followed by equally impressive music in the final three. A vast array of musical emotions and styles are displayed with the recurring themes of the album ever present. It is wonderful and if you at all are drawn to the hard rock side of prog (some will call it metal and mayber they are right, I am just not that at peace with the term) you will probably find a lot to cherish here. Give it a go. I dare say you will not regret it.

Pretentious. Pompous. Overblown. Selfindulgent. Preposterous.

Yes it is and I love it.

Report this review (#1130022)
Posted Tuesday, February 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars 've often wondered, for as brilliant as Porcupine Tree is/was, what their effective influence on progressive metal was. Certain aspects, like the profound emotional impact of Fear Of A Blank Planet really defy imitation, but then there's stuff like The Incident, which was pretty radical, but ultimately a bit of a flop (at least by the standards of Porcupine Tree). What was attempted was not so much a collection of interlinked songs or a huge monolith of prog, but rather a bunch of interconnected musical ideas that tied together around loose musical themes and a single lyrical theme. I've got to wonder if completing this project was on Arjen's mind when he set out to write The Theory Of Everything.

Ayreon has never been the most original progressive metal band out there. At times, this has been one of my big frustrations: Arjen was so enamored with guest vocalists and musicians that sometimes Ayreon records feel more like compilation albums of other bands' works than an actual cohesive musical vision. Eventually, Arjen focused his albums around singers playing parts rather than individual songs, but after 01011001, there wasn't anywhere else to go. So question two is: why did Arjen feel it necessary to resurrect the Ayreon name?

Well, the first answer is that apparently Arjen will never be out of underdeveloped stories to deliver with a sledge hammer upon unsuspecting audiences. I was able to ignore this for the first half of the record, but by the second half it was so over the top (and so lame) that I was getting a touch tired of it. But, secondly, his last solo album sucked. Perhaps he hasn't realized this yet, but somehow going back to Ayreon has resulted in much better compositions. Overall, the characters in his story take more of a back seat, especially in the instrumental heavy opening quarter. This is a very good thing. If there was ever anything that drew me to Ayreon, it was the great mix of psychedelic, space-age synths with tremendous respect for classic prog. Throwing flutes at me early in the first 20 minute song was, at least for me, great. I'm sort of helpless when it comes to the Hammond organ too, and so as far as the classic prog sound palette goes, full marks.

Ayreon isn't, from an influence standpoint, breaking any new barriers here, but I've got to say I really enjoy how they're balancing those influences a lot more on The Theory Of Everything as opposed to past efforts. As for the grand venture in this style of album writing, it'll never be done as well as "Thick As A Brick", probably because that only ended up as a 42 minute monolith of parts after it had mostly been written. Perhaps you can never try to emulate the greatness that a genius unintentionally creates. Overall, The Theory Of Everything dexterously dodges the major potholes that Arjen seems to love driving himself into. If you're not willing to sit through the 20 minute "Phases", I wouldn't much bother, because the individual parts are still pretty disjointed on their own. Still, kudos for exceeding my expectations, and for an album that lives up to Ayreon's potential quite well.

4.25 // 5

Originally posted at www.blackwindmetal.com

Report this review (#1211398)
Posted Friday, July 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
Progulator
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars It's been five years since the release of the last Ayreon album, 01011001, although Arjen Lucassen certainly didn't slow down after that. Even though there has been hot debate by our Progulator staff as to whether his solo album Lost in the New Real was actually an Ayreon record or not, I suppose the recent release of The Theory of Everything might settle that battle with it's return to full on Ayreon glory, replete with huge numbers of guests despite the fact that Arjen has stated that he was scaling down; and indeed he has, going from around 17 singers on his 2008 album to only (ONLY) ten on this one. For a man such as Arjen Anthony Lucassen, it seems that the bar is always set high, and Mr. L definitely set out to one-up himself on his latest effort. If an Ayreon record was ever over the top, The Theory of Everything certainly is that album.

Arjen's latest record sets off to do rock opera differently than ever before, focusing musically on the big picture, making long-form musical statements from small interconnected movements that present the development of scenes and set the stage for vocalist interactions rather than focusing on the traditional method of verse/chorus; in fact, there is hardly any verse/chorus here at all, which may make it difficult for the more pop-prog oriented fans at first, but in the end provides a more confident seat from which to view the work as a whole. Some may disagree, but in my opinion, while Arjen has always made fantastic rock operas, The Theory of Everything feels like Ayreon's first true rock opera (with the possible exception of Into the Electric Castle) whereas most of Arjen's albums, although presenting an interconnected story, felt more like concept records with songs that could could easily be taken out of their environment and stand on their own. On The Theory of Everything we essentially get four songs of 20+ minutes each, a true prog lover's dream come true.

What caught my attention, however, is the manner in which the pieces unfold; while each track feels contained to a certain extent and presents musical ideas in its own way, there is a strong sense of continuity and non-interruption between songs that makes it very easy to visualize singers moving seamlessly on and off stage and interacting as the story progresses. The bigger gaps between the four pieces give a strong sense of set-changes on stage, the change of discs occurs in the perfect spot in the story for an 'intermission' between acts, while the use of leitmotif within each longer piece and across all four songs is the glue that holds it all together. Although this is very different than what Arjen has done in the past, he pulls off the format nicely; in fact, I would go as far as to say that this sort of format is allowing Arjen to show the most mature compositional abilities of his career, and that is saying quite a lot indeed.

As for the guest singers, what can I say? They're amazing. We see Cristina Scabbia and Marco Hietala offering what I would consider the best performances of their careers; Arjen certainly has a knack for sucking out every ounce of wonderfulness out of these vocalists. Take Marco's performance on "The Rival's Dilemma" for example, where we hear the wonderful low range of the Finnish vocalist's voice that is seldom heard in his other projects, as well as his level of theatricality and expression taken to new heights, which is further exemplified in "Quid Pro Quo," one of the major turning points of the story. Song like "Side Effects" and "The Consultation" feature brilliant performances by John Wetton (ex-King Crimson, UK) where John capitalizes on restraint matched with dynamism, perfectly exemplifying the professionalism required of the role of psychologist, making him the most convincing of all the character roles. And of course, what more can we say about Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder)? Like always, his performances range from virtuosic in his use of ad libs on "The Prodigy's World" to heart melting passion as he reject's his father on "Frequency" and later embraces their relationship just before death on "The Note." To put in a plug on the latter piece, Arjen's choice of gritty Hammond with expert control of undulating Leslie rotors makes for a simple, intimate, and powerful choice of instrumentation to back up Tommy's perfect voice.

On the instrumental side we see some huge waves as well. As always, Arjen shows himself as a compositional master on all instruments prog, as well as a formidable player with the ability to always find the perfect note, whether that's on his Gilmour-esque guitar solos or methodical keyboard work, always knowing when the perfect moment to bring in Hammonds, old school string machines, or diverse uses of the Minimoog; while you can always tell where the influences are, the way he incorporates, mixes, matches, and blends a plethora of styles is always distinctively Arjen in the best of ways. Of course, for many fans, particularly those of classic prog, the appearance of legendary icons such as Steve Hackett, Keith Emerson, and Rick Wakeman is the icing on the cake. In most regards, I'd say they lived up to their fame, although I felt that Emerson's solo on "Progressive Waves" could have been so much more. On the other hand, Rick Wakeman's classic Minimoog performances on "Diagnosis" and "Surface Tension" displayed the perfect balance between free soloing and a committed musicality which the piece demands. Hackett's modal soloing on "The Parting" also doesn't disappoint, showing a delicate but improvised sense of phrasing that is recognizeable from the definitive Genesis guitarist. Of course the individual performances are well done, how could they not be when you bring in this caliber of musicians? That said, it isn't the appearance of big names that makes this album great. Their appearance is a nice touch, a sort of linking chain in the history of prog, uniting the past with the present, but it is Lucassen's music and direction that drive The Theory of Everything.

As an entire rock opera, the flow is a rollercoaster of styles, moods and dynamics. Arjen delivers everything here, starting from his Jethro Tull-esque introduction of the main theme, employing doubled Hammond and flute, to it's powerful strings repetition of this theme in the closer, "The Theory of Everything part 3." Hang on to your seat belts, because in between there's about everything under the sun. We witness the John Wetton pieces being heavily dominated by electronics and arpeggiators, while "Alive!" gives us some 80′s pop rock to the tune of Michael Mill's vocals soaring into orbit. "Magnetism" nails down that strong Celtic vibe, masterfully augmented by the playing of Troy Donockley, and "The Breakthrough" gives us a sort of boogie with loads of vocal tradeoffs and the implemenation of some familiar themes from the work. Of course, there's the heavy parts, such as "Quantum Chaos," with its POWERFUL chugging guitars behind arpeggiators and sandwiching sections of sci-fi film-score-like melodic moments. And if there's anything Arjen uses to perfection, it's that Hammond, just about everywhere on the record.

Coming in late in the year, it's hard to ask myself how does The Theory of Everything hold up against the best records of the year. Well, it's a bit to early to be making decisions for the 2014 Proggies, but I most certainly have no reservations when I say that Ayreon has delivered a record that is hard to match in quality and scope. In 2013 there are very few artists that are attempting to do something this ambitious; I must say that in that way this record serves as a sort of generational benchmark, a reminder that 1973 isn't the only place where we can look for rock albums that are over the top, nerdy, and most importantly, enjoyable.

Report this review (#1287591)
Posted Saturday, October 4, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars After an absence of five years, Arjen Anthony Lucassen decided to bring back his Ayreon project. But where to go this time? Ayreon was originally a character in Arjens previously 6 part space opera (7 if Actual Fantasy is included, the only non-concept Ayreon album), and that story has concluded. The answer? Wipe the slate clean, and begin on a completely new story, seperate from the space opera of old.

The Theory of Everything is therefore meant to be the beginning of a new storyline, one that takes place in our world, were the Ayreon albums of old took place all over the galaxy (excluding The Human Equation. This is a more "real" storyline revolves around a boy, who has the gift of being able to see every equation on earth. He is an extremely intelligent boy but lacks social skills and is often alone. He's neglected by his farther, who's working on "The Theory of Everything", but ties to enlist the boy for his help when he discovers that his son is an exceptional genius. The boy's mother, however, tries to help him out with trying to fit into society, along with a girl from school.

There's obviously way more to the story than this. This is a Ayreon album afterall, which means that the plot is heavy but quite interesting. There's alot of sides and elements to the story, and while the album is easier to follow compared to some of the previous albums, it is still indeed necessary to have the lyric sheets in your hand while listening to the album.

So what about the songs themselves? The Theory of Everything is Ayreon as we know it, with all the charastics that people have come to know and love. Progressive metal mixed with some progressive rock, synth, orchestrations and flutes. And as always, each character in the story has a wide arrary of singers (more on them later).

What is different about this album though, is the structure. While it is a double album (like most of the previous albums), this time there are only four songs, named phases here, each clocking in at around the 20 minute mark, with the shortest being 21:31 and the longest being 23:29. The songs themselves include various movements and this is where problems sadly start to appear.

The four phases are split into 42 tracks, each track representing each their movement. It's understandable to split an album like this up. It's always a challenge to ask listeners to sit through four 20+ minute songs (just ask Yes), but by splitting it up into 42 tracks, the challenge has actually increased instead of being more welcoming.

The averge track is around one - two mintues long, with a couple that croses the three minute mark (the longest being 3:54) and a couple that goes under one minute (shortest being 24 seconds), but the tracks themselves can be pretty easy to miss. This is one of those albums were if you don't watch your music player, you wouldn't notice if one track ended and a new one began, that's how smooth the tracks seque into each other.

This means that each individual track can't be taken as a song on it's own, when it is part of something much bigger. This is what basicly amounts to have a film on blu-ray, and then asked to pick a random scene from the scene selection screen and stop it before the next scene; it doesn't quite work on it's own.

It also becomes pretty distracting when one of the four full stops comes. For example: the first eleven tracks are the first phase, after which there is a full stop before phase two begins. It further detracts from the overall experience, and praticaly forces you to sit with the back cover of the album, in order to know when the phase stops.

Personally, I used a cd ripping program (can't recall the name as I had someone else put it together for me), and were therefore able to listen to the album as four unbroken songs which immensely improved the album. It just makes the songs feel more natural, and where the individual sections are too short to stand on their own, they almost gain new life when taken as part of something larger.

So it is perferred to listen to this as four unbroken tracks, especially because the music on the two discs are great and actually some of the best Ayreon has ever offered (which says lot considering the previous albums). The quality is almost consistently high throughout the album, with Phase four being the weakest. Beside the ending, it just isn't that memorable and at this point kinda runs out of steam.

But it is never uncreative or boring. There is alot of varierty and memorable melodies on the two disc that has alot of the high quality that we are used to from Arjen. Phase 2 however is the absolute highlight of the record which includes the best and most thoughtout sections. The other three phases suffer a bit for having some sections cut short or apruptly ending when they really should have been explored more.

What is consistent throughout the album however are the singers. The guys and gals on display here do a great job, from John Wettons (Asia) as The Psychiatrist to Marco Hietala (Nightwish) as the boy's rival. Everyone does a good job of conveying their characters, with performances that quite easily matches the highs of the singers from The Human Equation. If you were hoping to her Arjen sing again however, I must disappoint you by saying that he doesn't sing on this one at all! I was suprised myself, but considering the characters and the story his voice would have a hard time fitting in.

Likewise the slew of quest musicians who provide various solos, especially keyboard legend Rick Wakeman (ex-Yes) delivers a fantastic solo on phase two, followed up by another great solo from Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater). Everyone contributes something valuable and it's amazing to listen too.

All this is even more solidfied by the usual excellent playing of Arjen who once again shows that he's got talent, and his drummer-in-crime Ed Warby delivers one of his best drumming on an Ayreon drumming.

The album is a welcome return for Ayreon and reminds us why this project has been so special throughout the years, even though the album loses steam by the last phase and the tracklist doing it's best to butcher the listening experience. I still recommend finding a way to split the album into the four tracks that it's meant to be listened as, as it improves the experience immensley. But still: Welcome back Ayreon you have been missed!

Report this review (#1440189)
Posted Monday, July 13, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars I used to be very fond of this double album when it was released because of the line-up, music and the length. As time progressed, my opinion has deteriorated someway. 90 minutes is very long to stay focused to an album unless it is very good and cohesive. There is a lot of professionalism in it, especially thanks to Lucassen's guitar playing and keyboard masters Wakeman, Emerson and Rudess joining the boat. Vocals are less famous with the exception of Wetton. While music is better than average, the album suffers by having too many short tracks that don't help staying focused. If I should pick one instrumental track, listen to Number 7 with Rudess or Emerson giving a killer synth or Moog solo.

Report this review (#2271314)
Posted Saturday, October 19, 2019 | Review Permalink

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